Thursday, 5 March 2015

Imperfecting Perfection

A friend recently messaged with something that he thought I would like. It was the advertising tag line for the on-line dating website “”. It read “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will”. He was right I did like it and had noticed it popping up on adverts everywhere, a very clever bit of advertising I thought. It also tapped into that sadness that I see in us at times, our worries and concerns over our seeming imperfections.

On-line dating does not have a very good reputation. I have lost count of the number of tales of woe I have heard from friends who have tried to meet someone through such avenues. That said I know of some really lovely success stories too. My sister “Our Mand” met her husband through this avenue, he is a great guy. Last Saturday I conducted the wedding a dear friend who met the woman he was marrying through the same avenue. They met through one of the less reputable sites too. It worked for them though, after many previous seeming disasters.

Looking for love or the person that fits you and you fit them is no easy thing in the modern age, maybe the problem is that so many of us are looking for the seemingly perfect person, who fits the right profile, who ticks all the boxes. Maybe such a person doesn’t exist, I am fairly certain that they don’t. Even if they did exist, maybe they are looking for mister or miss perfect too.

Brings to mind one of my favourite stories from the vault of Mulla Nasruddin

One afternoon, Nasruddin and his friend were sitting in a cafe, drinking tea, and talking about life and love. “How come you never got married, Nasruddin?” asked his friend at one point. “Well,” said Nasruddin, “to tell you the truth, I spent my youth looking for the perfect woman. In Cairo, I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, with eyes like dark olives, but she was unkind. Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous soul, but we had no interests in common. One woman after another would seem just right, but there would always be something missing. Then one day, I met her. She was beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had everything in common. In fact she was perfect.” “Well,” said Nasruddin’s friend, “what happened? Why didn’t you marry her?” Nasruddin sipped his tea reflectively. “Well,” he replied, “it’s a sad thing. Seems she was looking for the perfect man.”

I am more like Nasruddin than I would like to be at times.

Perfectionism increasingly plagues our age. This need to get everything right. This need to escape criticism. We put too much pressure on ourselves and on one another. We see it in schools, in the work place, in public services. We have this growing expectation that celebrities and sport stars have to be whiter than white and not fallible humans like the rest of us. People also seem increasingly obsessed with body image and the like, this cannot be good for us. Increasingly we live in an age where all we do is pick at the seeming imperfections in our human make up. I wouldn’t mind but who exactly are we trying to live up to and whose approval are we seeking?

I fall for it myself from time to time and I know it doesn’t do me any good. I am a perfectionist in some areas of my life, but not in others. In the areas where I am I can put far too much pressure on myself and it is not healthy. It is not just about doing a good job either, which is a positive thing, it is about appearing perfect, doing things perfectly and therefore seemingly transcending criticism.

I know this is crazy and un-achievable, but I still put myself through it when locked away researching or writing. Thankfully when I’m out amongst the beautiful people I serve the clown in me takes over somewhat and I am set free from the chains of perfectionism.

"Perfection" is a subject I explored when I candidated for the two congregations I serve, although it was done in a very different way back then. I lead the same service at both congregations. Now things went fairly well at Altrincham,the first service, except when it came to the collection and I froze as I did not know what to do. Thankfully the lovely couple who had received it gently pointed me in the right direction.

Things though went a little bit wrong a couple of weeks later as I lead the service at Urmston. I got a little too engrossed in what I was doing and carried away with it and completely forgot one of the hymns. I only realised what I had done when we got to the third hymn. So I gave them an option, made a joke about it and we sang them together. I was then able to keep on referencing this throughout the sermon which was on "perfection" and that I was far from it myself. Strangely enough we’ve had problems with hymns from time to time their ever since. although thankfully they have accepted me as their Holy Fool.

I was taught many lessons that day…One of them being that people aren’t looking for a perfect worship leader, well they certainly haven’t got one in me…A real one yes, and one who isn’t afraid to appear as a Holy Fool.

I have been reflecting a lot on the "Sermon on the Mount", found in the fifth chapter of Matthew's Gospel in recent weeks. I have made several references to aspects of it in recent "blogspots". These last few days I've been reflecting, once again on verses 43-48 often referred to as "Love for Enemies". Here are the verses below:

43 "‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

These words come at the end of "The Sermon on the Mount". Verse 48 reads “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” As I understand it Jesus is speaking of perfect love specifically here, love without prejudice love for all, whoever they are and wherever they have been. I believe that this is the love that the communities I serve are built upon. It is certainly the foundation upon which my ministerial mantra is built “Come as you are, exactly as you are…but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.” I believe this is echoing Jesus’s belief in humanity that we are the "light of the world", that I explored in a previous blog You are the light of the world He is highlighting what we are capable of being when we remember who we are and the perfect love from which we are formed. What really gets me here though is the realisation that we don’t need to be perfect in all areas of our lives in order to offer perfect love. In fact if perhaps we thought we were we would not be able to offer perfect love to those who need it the most, for we would perhaps possess a false sense of superiority.

Now for a long time I wrongly believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me and all humanity for that matter. I believed we were broken or “fallen” people who occasionally do something decent. I believed this when I had no religious belief by the way. Actually when I lost faith in the humanism I once had and descended into total nihilism this became even more deeply ingrained. I no longer see things this way I do believe in “Original Goodness”, or “Original Blessing”. I believe that our problem is that we forget we fall short of what we can be at our best. Sadly some people seem cut off almost completely from this, but I always live with hope. We are not perfect it would seem.

Now perfect, perfection and imperfection are very interesting words to me. I do believe our desire to transcend these states has a lot to do with this fundamental belief that at the core of us there is something wrong. This seems to have intensified in our increasingly secular time as we increasingly worship the God of self or even worse the God of public opinion, perhaps the most jealous of any man made God and certainly one that is impossible to please. That critical voice never stops, whether it is imagined or real.

The problem is that we equate imperfection with there being something wrong with us at our core, when actually what it really means is that we are incomplete. That we are looking for wholeness, with ourselves, our world and God.

The thing about life is that nothing is ever wholly complete, but that does not mean it isn’t any good. Life is constantly, changing, moving and bending into new shapes, it wouldn’t be life if it wasn’t.

When we hear the word perfect today we tend to think of something without blemish, being absolutely 100% pure. Yet the word for perfect in those verses above from Matthew was originally “teleo” which really meant fulfilment, or wholeness or completion. It does not mean what we understand as moral perfection today. Some version of the passage have translated it as goodness.

Now of course none of us are wholly complete. Well this is where love comes in, where God comes in. By returning to God I have learnt that I can better offer perfect love to those who need it. I believe that we can all be like the father in the Prodigal Son parable and offer perfect love. This is an example of perfect love, open to everyone.

I believe, stronger than ever that it is our imperfection, our incompleteness that makes us better able to both give and receive love as it opens us up to the love present in life itself. So maybe those folk at “” have it right when they say “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will”.

The truth is of course we don’t need something or someone to complete us; the truth is that there is nothing really wrong with us at all. We are human beings we all have our gifts and talents and things we don’t do so well and that’s beautiful. We are after all the the light of the world, we just need to remember this. We have to let all that love light shine for our world needs it.

I realised a while back that in order to imperfect our perfection all that is required of us is that we learn to just be at ease with who we who are, just to delight in our very being and to allow others to do the same. I learnt this from observing two very important people in my life. One was from my nephew Johnny who just happily and confidently delighted in who he was. No fear, no self-consciousness he has not yet learn about all that, sadly no doubt he will soon. The other was my granddad who over the years just accepted me as I was, without ever once criticising that I can recall. My sister has said something similar, he loved us without condition. I think that is perfect love. I see it also in people who are just at ease with themselves. The kind who don’t need to prove anything to anyone else, who just get on with the work and life they are given. These are the people who teach me how to imperfect my own perfection.

Who are the teaches in your lives? Maybe that’s something you could think about. Who shows or has shown you that it is ok to be you and have helped you show that perfect love to others.

Remember perfect love is about accepting those we meet exactly as they are and perhaps that begins by first of all accepting ourselves as we are, exactly as we are, warts and all and beauty spots too.

I'm going to end this little chip of a blogspot with the following "Passing Through" by Robert Walsh. I suggest that they are read in a prayerful state...You may notice something familiar in the pattern of these worlds…

“Passing Through” by Robert Walsh

O Spirit that creates us, sustains us, transforms us, and judges us, may your many names be hallowed.
May there come a world that sings with your justice and mercy, your beauty and truth, and may we be your faithful partners in creation to bring that world about.
Accept us in our brokenness, even as we would accept our mortal sisters and brothers, parents and children, spouses and partners, neighbours, and enemies.
Tempt us with life. Try us with growth and change and loss. But help us at last to find the path, through temptations and trials, to wholeness.
For we are but passing through this world. Yours is the creation, and the power, and the glory.


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